EDINBURG, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia is concerned there could be a huge undercount if the federal government includes a question about citizenship in its 2020 census.
On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross upset immigrant rights’ groups when he said such a question would be added. A citizenship question has not been included in a U.S. Census for almost 70 years.
The inclusion of the citizenship question is expected to adversely impact states with high immigrant populations, such as Texas. It is expected that a citizenship question will lead to a substantial undercount in Texas’ population, especially along the Texas-Mexico border.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said he will sue the Trump Administration over the matter.
The last Census occurred in 2010, and the base population estimate for Hidalgo County was 774,770. As of July 1, 2016, the Census Bureau estimated that Hidalgo County’s population had grown by nearly ten percent to 849,843. The Census Bureau reported a low response score of 32.7 percent.
“Hidalgo County has been working with all of our congressmen, as soon as we heard about the question of citizenship being added to the 2020 Census,” Garcia told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“It is a question we feel will deter residents of our community (from answering the census forms). We need to get these residents counted in order to get the resources we need.”
The census count is used to determine how much federal and state dollars a community receives, as well as in the apportionment of congressional districts. If the Valley is not counted thoroughly, Garcia argued, it will lose congressional representation and important funding.
“This is an area that historically has faced census challenges. We know that we have always had an undercount. We have challenged the census on that before. And so, adding this question is just going to make our challenges a lot bigger and our messaging a lot harder,” Garcia said.
“We are working with our congressmen. They are understanding of our position that this question is not something good for our region. We are hoping that Congress can do something about it. A citizenship questions is not good for our region.”
Asked why a question on citizenship is not good for the Rio Grande Valley, Garcia said: “The fear is that with the information gathered, the federal government will have a concrete answer on whether residents are citizens or not. The fear is that this information may be shared among different agencies.”
Agencies such as ICE, which deports undocumented immigrants, Garcia explained. “We have been told that it (census information won’t (be shared). But, given some of the positions we have seen the (Trump) Administration take, that fear is there.”
The Center for Public Policy Priorities’ “State of Texas Children 2017” regional report on the Rio Grande Valley said that about 95 percent of the more than 430,000 children in the Rio Grande Valley are Hispanic, and of those, 95 percent are U.S. citizens. However, more than half of the children live with one or more immigrant parents, 50 percent of which are not U.S. citizens.
“We have a lot of issues here, but immigration is probably the air we breathe down here. It causes extreme fear in our children, in our families, that they’re going to be separated, and the folks that really know about this are the community-based organizations, who work hand-in-hand with these people, and the federally qualified health centers,” said Dr. Marsha Griffin, co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group.’
Former McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez is the Democratic Party nominee for Hidalgo County Judge. Cortez said: “The people of Hidalgo must remember that population counts done every ten years are extremely important. They help our region obtain funding opportunities at the federal and state level necessary for our county needs. More people, will equal more money and adequate representation for Hidalgo County. We must effectively communicate to all the people of Hidalgo County that by participating in the census count, it will have no effect on their immigration status.”
RGV Equal Voice Network
Like Garcia and Griffin, Christina Patiño Houle, network weaver for the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, is also concerned about a citizenship question being asked on the 2020 census form.
“The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network is appalled by the Commerce Department’s decision to include a question on citizenship status in the upcoming 2020 Census,” Patiño Houle told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Patiño Houle pointed out that the Census is the largest peacetime undertaking of the United States federal government. She said the U.S. has a constitutional obligation to count all persons in the U.S. regardless of income level, race or immigration status.
“The Census determines critical issues for our region like representation in Congress and allocation of resources for social services. The current administration’s decision to include a citizenship question is nothing short of a direct attack on our border communities and an overt attempt to disappear us,” Patiño Houle said.
Patiño Houle also pointed out that numerous past census directors, both Republican and Democratic, have chosen not to add a citizenship question to the census. “The current administration is ignoring the wisdom and bipartisan leadership of these past directors. We can only conclude that these are deliberate decisions intended to scare our communities into not participating in this constitutional activity.”
Patiño Houle said the RGV EVN will work with its partners to “fight” the addition of a citizenship question and to continue to work “diligently” within Valley communities to 1) increase community participation and 2) document problems with the census roll out.
“The census count is an essential element in the fabric of our democracy. By intimidating Latino communities out of participating this administration is essentially saying ‘You don’t matter, you don’t exist.’ We are organizing to prepare our communities for what will be the upcoming fight. We are angry, we are here, and we will be counted.”
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen issued the following statement in response to Secretary Ross’ decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire.
“I cannot relay how disappointed I am in Secretary Ross’ decision to reinstate a citizenship question,” Gonzalez said. “It is clear that this is an intimidation tactic and an attempt to suppress participation in the upcoming Census. This action could penalize communities with low response rates, large immigrant populations, and a history of being undercounted.”
In January, Gonzalez sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing his concerns with the Justice Management Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s request to restore the citizenship question. Gonzalez disputed the DOJ’s assertion that a citizenship question would help to prevent voter fraud.
Gonzalez pointed out that under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, all responses to Census Bureau surveys must remain confidential. Therefore, the privacy of all information obtained by the Census is protected under the law and will not be shared with immigration enforcement agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); law enforcement agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or local police; or be used to determine a respondent’s eligibility for government benefits. The results from any Census or survey are reported in statistical format only.
Gonzalez noted that after he and other stakeholders pushed for it, the Census Bureau agreed to open a new Area Census Office in Hidalgo County in the summer of 2019. He said he has asked the Census Bureau work diligently to accurately count South Texas in the upcoming 2020 Census.
El Paso viewpoint
Concerns about a citizenship question being asked in the 2020 census are also being voiced in El Paso, another border community with a high immigrant population.
State Sen. José Rodríguez of El Paso said: “The U.S. Department of Commerce is required by our Constitution to obtain an accurate count of all persons, regardless of citizenship status. The President and his advisors, following anti-immigrant Attorney General Sessions, know full well that adding a citizenship question will have a chilling effect. There is no reason to do it other than to suppress an accurate count of communities of color that are part of our nation’s fabric. We cannot let that happen. El Paso and Texas will lose representation and funding if all of the people in our growing community and state are not counted accurately.”
State Rep. César J. Blanco of El Paso said the census citizenship question threatens Texas’ political representation, apportionment, and federal funding for critical infrastructure and services. Blanco is urging Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton to sue the Trump Administration to block the inclusion of the citizenship question.
“Texas stands to gain from a full and accurate count of ALL Texas residents. The 2020 Census is also vitally important to the future of our local communities. The data gathered will determine funding for vital local services, such as education, health care and transportation, and it will also affect representation at all levels of government,” Blanco said.
“I am calling on Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton to stand up for Texas and sue the Trump Administration to block the inclusion of the citizenship question. Texas is a fast-growing state with growing needs and is also poised to gain up to 3 new congressional seats. Any decision by the Trump Administration that dilutes Texas’ political representation and reduces future federal funding hurts our communities, businesses, and working families. This isn’t about politics, it’s about Texas receiving its fair share of resources and representation. It is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue – it’s a Texas issue.”
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ Educational Fund, said a question about citizenship in the 2020 census would be a “yet another assault on immigrants and Latinos.” Vargas issued this statement:
“The U.S. Department of Commerce and Trump Administration today chose to put politics above the interests of the American people. By deciding to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census at the 11th hour, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has further undermined the integrity of one of the most preeminent scientific agencies in the world, further jeopardizing the accuracy of the 2020 Census and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in the process.
“The addition of any question at this moment in time would have catastrophic consequences for Latinos and all Americans. As a member of the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, I have seen firsthand the careful and costly research and testing that the Bureau undertakes over a period of many years to develop the questions used for the decennial count. Preparations for this upcoming 2020 Census have been underway since 2008, with the Bureau’s final test taking place now in Providence County (R.I.).
“Set to validate the Bureau’s readiness for the operations, procedures, systems, and field infrastructure for the once in a decade census that will take place in less than two years, the final testing in Providence is not utilizing questionnaire forms that include a question on citizenship. This means that the addition of this topic to the 2020 Census, if successful, would be implemented blindly without any scientific evaluation of what kind of impact it would have on public response rates or the follow up needed for those who may not answer the questionnaire.
“As I expressed to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross personally in a phone conversation days ago, the addition of any question at this point would be costly and disastrous. Field representatives conducting surveys and other experiments are already reporting widespread and unprecedented fear among test respondents. Adding a question on citizenship at this time would only seek to fan the flames of fear and distrust in the Census, further risking depressed response rates.
“There are no second chances with the census. Estimates from the Census Bureau show that every one percent decrease in the self-response rate will increase the cost of the census by $55 million.
“Opposition to an untested and last-minute addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census has been swift and widespread. The American Sociological Association, six former Census Bureau Directors from both Republican and Democratic administrations, more than 161 Mayors, 19 State Attorney Generals, and numerous leaders in the business community have all come all publicly against this effort.
“While we had hoped for the best, NALEO Educational Fund has been preparing for the worst, knowing that it would be up to organizations like us who believe in our democracy to fight back should this untimely, unnecessary and unwise decision come to fruition. In the coming days, weeks, and months, we will stand alongside partners and colleagues from across the country as the battle to reverse this costly course of action heats up in both Congress and the courts.
“The stakes are too high for a failed 2020 Census, and we will not sit idly by as those with malice intentions seek to thwart a fair and accurate count of immigrants, Latinos and all Americans. The fight has just begun, and we will not stop until we have exhausted all avenues to provide the Census Bureau with the fix and certainty it needs to tackle its most ambitious task yet, counting the largest American population in history.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.